“A conversation that crosses time.” Those were the words Virginie Viard chose to describe her Spring/Summer 2022 Chanel haute couture collection, which opened with Charlotte Casiraghi on horseback in a little black Chanel jacket, galloping around a wooden Constructivist manège imagined by the French artist Xavier Veilhan. Plenty of loaded imagery there: Chanel herself was an ardent horsewoman, who drew many of her ideas from the practicalities of equestrian dress. Casiraghi, meanwhile, is the daughter of Princess Caroline of Monaco, a muse of Karl Lagerfeld in the 1980s and a client of his Chanel. As for Veilhan, “his references to constructivism remind me of those of Karl Lagerfeld,” Viard says. “I like this similarity of spirit between us, now and across time.”
Viard worked with Lagerfeld for more than three decades – their legacies are inextricably intermingled with one another, just as they are, in turn, with the heritage of Gabrielle Chanel herself. So there is a sublimation, a spontaneous and instinctive sliding between now and then, between references to the past and forward glances to a near future. That’s what fashion always is, after all – especially within a heritage brand like Chanel. Veilhan’s wooden set, with its geometric shapes and soaring projections, its sense of Dada and abstraction, connects inherently to Chanel’s work, to her own revolutionary aesthetic that, like fine art, transformed the way people saw a century hence.
Spring/Summer 2022 had a sense of lightness, a masterful exercise of the proficiency of the Chanel ateliers coupled with the urge to replicate, perhaps, the sleek grace and bolting speed of a thoroughbred. “A great lightness and a lot of freshness: ethereal dresses that float as if suspended,” Viard said. Even trouser-suits were lightened, soft jackets matched with trousers slit open, to free the body – much as Chanel did when she eschewed corsets, frills and furbelows in favour of jerseys and tweeds.
Today, of course, thanks to Chanel’s influence on the wardrobes of women everywhere (name anyone who doesn’t have a jersey T-shirt. I’ll wait), haute couture demands more – precious fabrics, embroideries, time-consuming workmanship, a sense of the exceptional. Chanel’s superb ateliers, of course, can achieve all that – but they still maintained the weightlessness, speed and spirit that Casiraghi’s galloping steed evoked. Feathers shifted in the breeze as models circled the audience, tweeds, flowers, dresses were easily tied in back with thick satin sashes, like easily-undone ribbons fluttering in the breeze. Silhouettes were eased with a sense of the 1920s, delineating the body gently, waists dropped, lines long and languid. Retro inspiration, modern results – to paraphrase Viard, these clothes had a loveliness that seemed timeless.